Rebecca Walcker felt nothing.
It was about 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 23, a day the 28-year-old receptionist at Yelm Family Medicine may never forget.
Walcker had just received a Moderna COVID-19 vaccination — one of the first people in Yelm to be so honored — and was struck by the painlessness of the procedure.
“I didn’t feel the pinch of the needle at all,” she said. “I literally didn’t feel anything.”
Her heart, though, swelled with gratitude.
“It feels rewarding after all the stress and hard work we’ve gone through because of the pandemic,” Walcker said. “It’s not just the medical staff that has to worry about COVID, because we do, too. It’s a very different situation from what we’re used to.”
On this day, Yelm Family Medicine received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines — a Moderna box containing 10 vials — enough to administer 100 doses.
In mid-December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorizations for both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines. Both vaccines require a second dose within weeks after the first vaccination. Walcker and her colleagues will get their second Moderna shots in 28 days. Both vaccines are considered 95 percent effective at preventing COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
YFM Clinical Supervisor Stephanie Tucksen — who was the designated vaccinator on Wednesday — expects to receive another shipment of 100 Moderna vaccines possibly this week, and in coordination with the state Department of Health (DOH) expects to reach out to other local health care workers.
“I’m working with DOH to get more vaccines sent to us so we can vaccinate more health care workers in the area,” Tucksen said, noting she intends to set up a clinic inside or outside YFM to efficiently coordinate the procedures.
One of Tuckesen’s challenges is the short expiration time of the Moderna vaccines. Once a vaccine vial is opened — which has enough medicine to vaccinate 10 people — Tucksen has six hours to use all of it before it becomes ineffective. The same holds true for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
“So I have to make sure I have 10 people in line for the vaccines, or I risk wasting some of it after six hours,” she said.
Tucksen lucked out on Wednesday, though it took a bit of people herding to make it happen.
By the end of the day, she had vaccinated 30 people — 10 YFM doctors, 10 staff, several Labcorp employees, two members of the Yelm Fire Department, and several more from Tim’s Pharmacy in Yelm.
Yelm Family Medicine medical records coordinator Penny Buell, 46, received her vaccine right after Walcker. She rolled up her sleeve and looked up and away as Tuckmen’s vaccine needle found its mark.
Buell, who has worked at YFM for five years, urged people not to be afraid of the vaccine.
“The only way we’ll get back to normal is to get vaccinated,” she said. “I’m encouraging people to get vaccinated.”
Dr. Tamara Bunn, 48, who has worked at Yelm Family Medicine since 2002, was also among the first to be vaccinated Wednesday. The experience encouraged her.
“I’m very grateful and excited to move forward to get our economy and society back open and healthy,” she said.
Overall, the afternoon’s vaccinations went pretty smoothly, Tuckmen said, and she was pleased by the responses she’d received.
“We had a lot of people who were very excited and gracious to be able to be vaccinated,” she said. “People just want to be able to see and hug their family members again, and this is the first step to start the process of doing that again.”
All of those vaccinated last week fell into the state’s Phase 1a vaccine distribution plan. This first phase includes high-risk workers in health care settings, high-risk first responders, and residents and staff of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other community-based congregate living settings where most people are 65 or older receiving care, supervision or other assistance.
The state last week allocated 44,850 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 127,900 Moderna doses, DOH reported. A total of 153,925 doses were distributed to more than 220 sites in 37 counties and 18,825 doses distributed to long-term care facilities and 14 Indian tribes and Urban Indian Health Programs.
For the week, Thurston County received 5,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine; Pierce County received 4,875 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 14,100 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
As of Tuesday morning, Thurston County Social and Health Services reported 4,654 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 52 deaths since the pandemic began in early March. A total of 286 residents have been hospitalized, 3,980 have recovered or are recovering, and 5.9 percent of the latest COVID-19 tests have come back positive.
The state Department of Health reported that over the past two weeks Thurston County has had a rate of 242.1 newly diagnosed confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents.
Over the same time period, Pierce County reported 24,569 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 283 deaths.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday 19,055,869 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 332,246 deaths.